Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is fond of saying, “The standard is the standard,” when it comes to his players, whether it is one of his stars or a backup suddenly thrust into a prominent position in the lineup.
With former world champion boxer Adrien Broner, the standard hasn’t always been the standard.
His talent is undeniable. He has fast hands and hits hard and has a good sense of timing and distance. But Broner’s standard of professionalism hasn’t always matched the standard of his talent.
Broner dropped to 33-3 after a one-sided unanimous decision loss last July to Mikey Garcia, who in many ways was the opposite of Broner. Broner is filled with talent that he frequently squanders by not paying attention to details or by involving himself in out-of-the-ring antics that detract from his ability. Garcia is a guy who has maximized every ounce of ability in his body through hard work and paying attention to even the most minute detail.
After he lost to Garcia, Broner picked up the phone and called Kevin Cunningham.
A former St. Louis police officer who did yeoman’s duty in helping Cory Spinks and Devon Alexander to win world titles, Cunningham is known as a no-nonsense trainer whose fighters are always well-versed in the fundamentals and who come in shape and ready to fight.
With a fight against Jessie Vargas at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn approaching, Broner opted to hire Cunningham.
“I thought long and hard about it after he told me he was thinking of making some changes,” Cunningham said. “I’ve known Adrien for a long, long time. But once he told me he was committed to making some changes, I was willing to go forward. I told him if he were willing to give me his all, I’d give it my all and we’d try to get back to where he wanted to be. That’s where it started.”
Broner will fight Vargas on Saturday in the main event of the Showtime-televised card in a key fight for both men. Guys with talent like Broner’s always seem to get second, and third, and fourth and often, fifth chances.
But Cunningham, as straight a shooter as there is in the sport, said he gets the sense Broner realizes he can’t mess up yet again.
At some point, the public will move on and Broner is acting as if he knows that time is near. Cunningham said he’s gotten everything he could have asked for from Broner.
“He’s definitely worked his butt off,” Cunningham said. “Some days are better than others, but he’s really worked hard in this camp. I expect a really sharp Adrien Broner on [Saturday].”
The Broner Paradox was never on better display than in his June 20, 2015, bout with Shawn Porter. Porter outworked and outhustled Broner for 11 rounds and was in control of the fight. By the time the bell sounded to begin the 12th, Broner knew he was in dire straits.
For whatever reason, that resonated with him and he came out the way he should have in the first. He dropped Porter and nearly stole a fight he had no business winning.
Cunningham is hopeful that the Broner who looked so good against Porter in the 12th will re-emerge against Vargas, albeit from the first round.
“With what I’ve worked with him on is going out and dominating from the opening bell,” Cunningham said. “That’s the Adrien Broner I’m hoping to see, and who I expect to see, on Saturday night. That’s the way we have prepared.”
Cunningham has plenty of work ahead of him on Saturday, because he’s also been tasked with reinvigorating Gervonta Davis. “Tank” Davis fights Jesus Cuellar on Saturday in the co-main event, and is looking to regain some of the luster he lost when he missed weight in August and lost his title on the scale before stopping Francisco Fonseca.
Davis was seen as a fast-rising star when he stopped Jose Pedraza in seven one-sided rounds on Jan. 14, 2017. But after one successful title defense, Davis missed weight and didn’t seem engaged for his bout with Fonseca, which had a prominent spot on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor pay-per-view undercard.
Enter Cunningham. Davis’ reputation was a guy who looked to knock opponents out with one punch.
What Cunningham has seen, though, has been different, though the power is most definitely there.
“What I’ve found since having him in camp is that this kid is one of the most talented kids in the sport,” Cunningham said of Davis. “This kid can box, he can bang, he’s got hand speed, he’s got a great boxing IQ, great footwork and I’m just trying to help him use his skills and his talents to set up the power.
“He’s a perfect blend of speed, talent and power. This kid has so much ability and I think you’re going to look at him in this fight and go, ‘Oh, yeah. This guy can fight!’ He’s got so, so, so much potential, so much talent and I’m optimistic you’re going to see that on Saturday.”
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